So far, Rodney Tom is the only sponsor that actually represents part of the Sound Transit district.
I’ve gone through the 80 pages of legalese. Here’s the bill so that you can read for yourself, as I’m not any kind of lawyer. There are good and bad things about this bill, plus some things that could go either way.
The good things:
– The RTA would be authorized to collect sales taxes, vehicle excise taxes, and employee taxes solely for the purposes of high-capacity transit. (Section 516-518) I believe this expands their taxing authority. Of course, ST is currently limited by voter approval, not state legislation.
– The employee tax would be waived for any employee that has at least half the cost of a transit pass subsidized, or if the company has implemented an appropriate commuter-reduction plan (Section 307).
– Local municipalities can add their own stuff to the plan, effectively allowing for uneven levels of taxation if the benefits will be distributed unevenly. (Section 204)
– The Sound Transit staff essentially lives on in the new RTA (Section 210). I’m not sure Josh Feit’s fears about losing the $750 million FFGA for University Link is well-founded. Also, we’re not flushing over 10 years of hard-earned experience.
The bad things:
– The agency loses its focus on transit to also build roads.
– It’s also probably destined for a period of administrative chaos as they absorb road planners from RTID, which could have very negative impacts on Central Link startup and University Link groundbreaking.
– I think it’s unlikely you’d see a transit-only package go before the voters under this construct. That means that the Sierra Club et al. will be de facto opponents of rail for the foreseeable future.
– It’s certainly not explicitly in the bill, but I believe Daimajin is right when he suggests that this is an attempt by the rest of the state to stop funding their obligations on state highways in the region. It gives people clamoring for road projects somewhere to go besides the state legislature
The uncertain things:
– There are 10 voting commissioners: 3 appointed by the county executives, one elected at-large, and 6 elected from equally sized districts (Section 201). I’m skeptical this will work out in favor of the pro-transit forces, but I’m naturally pessimistic about such things. By my count, these districts work out to about one each for Snohomish, East King, and South King, and one-and-a-half for Seattle and Pierce County. If the most promising Link segments are to Northgate and Bellevue, you’re talking maybe 2 1/2 districts in favor. With the King Co. appointee and the at-large (?), you get 4 1/2 out of 10. The district lines will be important.
– Sub-area equity is gone. This is good in terms of producing an objectively better plan, but not necessarily good in producing one acceptable to the voters. It’ll be much easier to characterize it as “sending all our money to Seattle,” even if that’s not the case.
– Section 503 goes on and on about monorails. (!) Huh?
– If I read Section 313 correctly, only 10% of the employee tax and MVET can go to HOV projects. The rest has to go to commuter rail. The text is clear as mud, so I’m particularly unsure of this conclusion, as it seems to conflict with Sections 516-518.
I can imagine both good and bad outcomes from this bill, but I think the downside is a lot bigger than the upside.
The good outcome is that the pro-transit forces gain a narrow majority on the board, the staff handles the ST transition with grace, and ST 2.1 takes advantage of the uneven taxing options to make a rail-heavy and yet politically palatable plan, perhaps with a little more track laid than we’ve dared hope. The state continues its historical level of funding of highway projects, calling on the RTA to only fund the gold-plated aspects of projects like SR 520.
The bad outcome is that the reorganization causes ST to take its eye off the ball and jeopardize University Link. Ron Sims nominates some anti-rail, pro-BRT guy, the highway lobby bankrolls an anti-rail majority on the board, and we see pavement, pavement, pavement. Anytime the Puget Sound region asks for state money for roads, the legislature tells us to go see the RTA — while continuing to send our gas tax dollars anywhere else in the state that wants them.
Quite frankly, I’m pleased with ST’s performance over the last few years and pessimistic about the mood of the electorate. I’m reluctant to jeopardize that performance, and doubtful that this bill will produce something better.
So it’s not the end of the world, but puts a lot of hard-won gains at risk. It could actually make us better off, but it’s far more likely to do the reverse.
Or perhaps I don’t speak lawyer and I don’t know what I’m talking about.